An assessment is the process of documenting the knowledge, skills, attitudes, or beliefs of the learner after they have completed instructional activities. Assessment provides information about an individual learner, a group of learners, an institution, or an entire educational system.

The term assessment is generally used to refer to all activities used to gauge learner progress. When thinking about assessments for your course, it is important to tie them to the concrete goals and objectives that were stated at the beginning. Provide feedback to learners early and often so they feel they are supported.

Note that the terms “assessment” and “evaluation” are often used interchangeably, but they each have distinct definitions:

Assessment refers to how you will collect tangible data in your course in order to monitor whether the learning objectives and outcomes are being fulfilled. Simply stated, assessments determine what students learned and how they learned it.

Evaluation refers to your overall judgment on whether the course has met the learning outcomes and objectives you conveyed at the beginning of the course.

In the evaluation phase of your online course, you will examine the data that you collected through the assessments in order to make this judgment about whether the course was successful. As such, the assessments you develop are crucial components for evaluating your course.

While you will be assessing learners’ performance, perpetuate a learner-centered environment by creating opportunities for feedback from the learners on whether they believe these goals and objectives are being supported by the course activities and the resources made available to them. Additionally, teaching them techniques for self-assessment will allow them to chart their own growth throughout the course and take more ownership of their learning.

Types of Assessments




A form of questioning in which each question only has one correct answer Qualitative feedback that focuses on the details of content and learner performance Assessments that quantify the knowledge gained, such as a mid-term exam or paper, and impact learners’ final grades




A form of questioning in which each question has more than one correct answer The measuring of learning at the end of a unit or course to determine achievement of the learning objectives and outcomes Assessment activities that do not contribute to learners’ final grades that can be used to give guidance on where they need to focus their studies



Resources for

Assessment 2.0

Bobby Elliot, Scottish Qualifications Authority

The author provides tips for modernizing assessment methods:

Assessment and Collaboration in Online Learning

Karen Swan, Jia Shen, and Starr Roxanne Hiltz

This paper explores collaborative activity, including exams:

Online Resources for Higher Education Assessment

St. John’s University

Resources for understanding assessment:

Objective Assessment

Objective assessment is a form of questioning which has a single correct answer. Examples of objective assessments are multiple choice, true/false, matching, and mathematical equations.

Typically, objective assessments are easy to deliver online. Because the questions within the objective assessment have corresponding answers, a program can evaluate and score these responses, which is especially helpful for courses with a large number of students. Objective assessments also provide immediate feedback to the learners so that they can learn from their mistakes and continue working. The challenge for you is to create quality questions that accurately measure knowledge and skills. When designing the questions, determine what makes a response correct versus incorrect.

Subjective Assessment

Subjective assessment is a form of questioning which may have more than one correct answer. Examples of activities that respond to this type of question include essays, short answer, and oral questions.

Because subjective assessment assignments are more open-ended and are not tied to one specific correct response, it is important that they are evaluated against a set of clearly defined criteria and questions, often in the form of a rubric. When you are creating a subjective assessment rubric, you can codify the expertise and scoring process. One of the biggest advantages of subjective assessments is that they provide you with an authentic and more expansive understanding of each learner’s knowledge of a subject. This will help you assess the learning that is taking place at a higher level, whereas objective assessments are targeted to the lower to middle testing levels.

One factor to consider about subjective assessments is the amount of time it will take you to provide feedback to the learners, and scaling your process to meet the number of students in your course. Create feedback timelines and set expectations with your learners about when they should anticipate hearing back from you. Also consider developing a peer review process where learners assess each other’s work.

Formative Assessment

Instructors leverage formative assessments to modify teaching and learning activities to improve learner performance. These assessments typically involve qualitative feedback for both the learner and teacher that focuses on the details of content and performance.

Formative assessment is integrated throughout an effective online course; the learning goals and outcomes are inherent in each activity and assignment. This will allow you to continuously take inventory of how well specific concepts are being understood. For learners, formative assessments reveal the areas in which they are excelling as well as where they need more work. Because this type of assessment is not attached to a grade or measurement, learners can work through their weaknesses without the fear of failure. Formative assessment is especially useful when it is used to adapt the experience to meet the needs of the learners and help learners monitor their own progress.

Examples of formative assessment:

A language instructor asks students to record an audio greeting using particular nouns and verbs of a given language. The instructor records audio responses to each of the students with feedback on their greeting that details recommendations.

An instructor asks learners to reflect in an online journal about concepts covered in a given module in the context of a current event. The instructor can assess how much learning was absorbed and applied in real-world context.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessment is the process of evaluating or measuring learning at the end of a unit or course to determine achievement of the pre-stated learning objectives and course outcomes.

Examples of summative assessments:

  • Research Papers
  • Projects
  • Portfolios
  • Exams

Formal Assessment

Formal assessments are attached to activities that quantify the knowledge gained. Taking an online exam where the results are recorded is one example. A score is usually provided to both the learner and the instructor in a formal assessment, and is used to measure a learner’s performance, which may affect their final grade.

Offering a test towards the beginning of the course that has very little weight attached to it in terms of a grade is an effective way to alleviate learners’ anxiety and prepare them for what is to come. Provide feedback about the incorrect answers so the learners understand why a response is wrong.

Informal Assessment

Informal assessments are similar to formal assessments in the sense that they can be written, and usually provide feedback to the learner and the instructor. The main difference is that the feedback or score does not contribute to a learner’s final grade. Learners can use this guidance to adjust the areas in which to focus their studies.

Informal assessments usually occur in a more casual manner and may include observation, inventories, checklists, rating scales, peer and self-evaluation, and discussion. An informal assessment provides an indication as to how a learner will perform on a formal assessment.

Examples of informal assessment:

  • Practice quizzes or tests
  • Reflection videos or blog posts
  • Group journal entries

Knowledge checks placed within a learning resource can be an informal way to help students determine whether or not they have understood the material. In an online learning environment it is especially helpful to provide students with regular opportunities to monitor their own learning as they move through various topics. Providing questions that check for the understanding of key concepts will help students identify and address any learning gaps in their studies.